WASHINGTON (Oct. 4, 2000) — Lawmakers of all political stripes are jumping aboard a plan to require a handling test to rate the rollover risks of cars and trucks, especially sport-utility vehicles.
Fueled by horror stories about tires that fail and sport-utilities that roll over, the lawmakers want to attach the rollover test requirement to product safety legislation barreling through Congress.
If the measure is enacted, which now seems likely, it would bring a climax to about 30 years of on-again, off-again government efforts to deal with vehicle rollovers. Also, it will add to the steady
drumbeat of bad publicity for the industry´s most profitable vehicles, trucks, which are likely to post poor rollover scores.Just this past May, the use of handling tests for rollover ratings appeared dead. The National Highway Traffic Safety Aministration closed its latest search for an acceptable test and said that instead it would base ratings only on vehicle dimensions.
Using a five-star system, NHTSA will give fewer stars to taller, narrower vehicles, such as pickups and sport-utilities, and more stars to wider, lower vehicles, such as large sedans and exotic sports cars.
NHTSA wants to issue the first of those ratings by year end, but if the handling test proponents in Congress have their way, the agency would be required to have a new "dynamic" rating system within two years.
If Congress orders a test, "that´s what the agency will do," said NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd.
The dynamic testing amendment is sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey, liberal Democrat from Massachusetts. He is being urged by Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports. But he is getting support from across the political spectrum.
Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., rated by outside groups as one of the most conservative members of the House, said she favors Markey´s proposal.
She said rating vehicles only on their dimensions is "like learning to play golf but never being on the golf course."
Mr. Markey and his allies hope to add the amendment to the product-safety legislation at a meeting of the House Commerce Committee this week.
Even automakers, which generally have resisted rollover ratings, are cautiously embracing the concept of a handling test.
One industry lobbyist, who asked not to be named, said auto makers realize that dynamic testing is going to happen. So they figure they ought to be part of designing the program.
He also said that NHTSA´s five-star system is so bad, it makes rollover testing look better.
Barry Felrice, senior manager of regulatory affairs for DaimlerChrysler, predicted it still will be difficult to find a single test that is repeatable and that accurately differentiates among vehicles in the same class.
But he said a dynamic test would have advantages over ratings based only on dimensions because it would take into account new vehicle technologies, such as stability control.
Mike Stanton, vice president for governmental affairs of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said: "We´ll roll up our sleeves and work with the agency" if Congress orders a handling test.
But he cautioned: "They were not able to do it over 30 years. I don´t know how they can do it over two years.
Mr. Stoffer writes for Automotive News in which this story originally appeared.